The Mechelen Hundred

Portraits of a city's people, today

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen has often been overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Yet teaming up with the City of Mechelen, our line-up of 100 of the city’s most prominent people, places and projects proves the extent of its potential. From artists and creatives to critical thinkers and fighters, these are the powerhouses driving Mechelen forward one step at a time.

Marleen D’Joos

Marleen D’Joos

Cultural participation promoter at Sjarabang (1956)

Can you describe what you do?

Through my organisation Sjarabang, I help people with disabilities to participate in everyday life by creating opportunities in various cultural fields: ranging from workshops, painting, clay figures, to getting involved with theatre, and expositions. Inclusion is a key concept in our approach, and we work in collaboration with people without disabilities.

Every day I travel from my hometown Bonheiden to Mechelen where Sjarabang is based. Here, I am privileged to work with three wonderful associates who share my views. I love getting involved with artistic and cultural projects, and my goal is to share this passion with people who are disadvantaged and are held back when it comes to participating in society. The amount of gratitude and affection we get in return makes all the effort we put into it totally worth it.

How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?

I went to school in Mechelen, and during these 12 years, I felt it was a somewhat neglected city, but lately it has really improved. Streets and monuments have been upgraded, and there is a huge range of museums and cultural sites to visit. Sjarabang is located on the grounds of the old Beguinage, and it is very nice living there. There is a nice and homely vibe among all the residents, and they organise a lot of local events.

What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

Almost every week, the city council of Mechelen tries to offer all kinds of activities to its citizens. I know very few cities that have such a busy schedule of things going on, and most of the time they are free of charge as well!

How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

The city council has done a lot to promote our organisation. For example, the ministers of social welfare and culture support our vision that disabled people should be fully integrated in the community, so Sjarabang receives considerable financial and logistic support from the city. We are able to use a lot of facilities and locations from institutions like the cultural centre, the Academy and Conservatorium for our “Kunstenfestival”, where we welcome more than a thousand people with disabilities every year. I also have the feeling that a considerable part of the local population is becoming increasingly familiar with Sjarabang, and that our efforts are more and more appreciated.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

I feel that Mechelen could make the city more accessible to wheelchair users, but plans to improve the situation have already been launched, and I am confident we will see some positive results in the future.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?

Mechelen is blessed by a splendid historical city centre, and I just love to stroll around here. There’s plenty of things to do on any given day: a visit to the St. Rumbold’s Cathedral and tower, the renewed museum Hof Van Busleyden, a walk through the Beguinage (including a beer in the local brewery Het Anker), lunch at the Vismarkt and much more.

Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

The name of our organisation, “Sjarabang” is actually a local dialect word, originating from the French “char-à-bancs”. This is an open horse-pulled carriage that was used by theatre actors to travel from village to village. After the performance, the audience was asked to contribute a small donation by leaving coins in a hat that was passed around, then the seats were loaded onto a trailer and they were off to the next borough…